Denton County Sheriff Will Travis is taking the lead on a resolution by the Sheriff’s Association of Texas Legislative Committee to pre-empt future house bills in the 84th session of the Texas Legislature to decriminalize marijuana and legalize medicinal marijuana.
Travis compiled an extensive study on the topic as well as a resolution, presenting both to the association recently to garner support for halting any efforts to allow marijuana in plant form to be used for medicinal purposes or to decriminalize possession of marijuana from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor.
The issue first caught his eye after two house bills were filed, Texas House Bill 184 and House Bill 594. HB 184, which did not make it out of committee review in the 83rd Legislature, would have allowed for a Class C misdemeanor for anyone found with an ounce or less of marijuana. Currently, anyone found with two ounces or less of the substance in their possession is charged with a Class B misdemeanor. HB 594, also left pending in committee, addressed the medical use of marijuana in Texas.
The issue has been in the news since legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
“The best offense is defense,” Travis said of his efforts to educate legislators in the upcoming legislative session in early 2015. “We don’t want to be caught behind the curve.”
In the resolution approved by the Sheriff’s Association of Texas Legislative Committee, Travis cited the need for marijuana to be subject to the same research and analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as other potential medicines. Travis also noted the increasing potency of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC from 4 percent in the 1980s to 16 percent in 2013.
Marijuana currently is considered a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act and is considered a gateway drug for more potent substances such as heroin and cocaine, according to the resolution. Legalization could increase black market sales of the drug by cartels and impact public safety, he wrote.
A 2012 survey of high school students showed a growing number of students using marijuana. In the survey, 6.5 percent of eighth grade students reported using the substance during the month prior to the study. About 17 percent of the high school freshmen reported usage and 22.9 percent of the seniors reported using marijuana in the past month, Travis said.
“It’s the most used drug in school and the easiest drug to get,” the sheriff said. “Anything we can do to help kids to have a better upbringing is what we want to do.”
In the resolution, Travis cited marijuana as an addictive drug that poses significant health consequences to its users. Legalization of marijuana could increase drug use and health care costs, he wrote. In addition, recent studies have linked marijuana use to birth defects, respiratory system damage, cancer, mental illness, violence, infertility and immune system damage, according to the resolution.
Travis cited an estimated $100 billion loss per year for businesses due to substance abuse by workers who are only two-thirds as productive as non-users. Such usage could cause higher healthcare costs and accidents in the workplace, he noted.
The active ingredient, THC, currently is available in pill form at U.S. pharmacies for those requiring it for medicinal use. An oral spray with the same ingredients also is in the late stages of FDA approval in the U.S. According to Travis, these forms of THC medicines could be dispensed as a safer way for those who need it, reducing the risk of abuse.
Travis also reported states with legalized medical marijuana have seen an increase in the possession of marijuana by youth after the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Travis will speak to legislators on the resolution during the 84th Legislature, which begins in early 2015, to make them aware of potential effects in the decriminalization of marijuana and use of the marijuana plant for medicinal purposes instead of FDA-approved pharmaceuticals.
It is an issue close to his heart, he said.
“It’s our future generation. We want to do the best we can to help them be productive members of society.”